Russia’s Alexander Tretiakov struggles to start his first run in the men’s Skeleton World Cup race in Innsbruck, Austria. The Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled on Thursday, Feb. 1, 2018 to reinstate Tretiakov as gold medal winner of the men’s skeleton at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. (Photo by THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Canadian luger says it’s a ‘dark day’ after Russian doping ban reversal

An international tribunal’s decision to overturn lifetime suspensions and reinstate results for 28 Russian athletes accused of doping is a low point for fair play in sport, says a Canadian athlete who stands to lose an Olympic bronze medal because of the decision.

Calgary luger Sam Edney didn’t mince words Thursday after learning about the Court of Arbitration for Sport’s ruling that sanctions against the athletes should be annulled and their individual results at the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi be reinstated because of insufficient evidence.

“Above anything else, this is a very very very dark day for the Olympics,” Edney said via Twitter. “AND, this is a very very very dark day for Clean Sport … if there is such a thing anymore.”

With just a week to go before the Pyeongchang Olympics, the 33-year-old Edney and teammates Alex Gough, Tristan Walker and Justin Snith are poised to lose what would have been Canada’s first Winter Games medal in luge.

The Canadians finished fourth in the team event four years ago in Sochi but learned in December they would likely be upgraded after Russians Albert Demchenko and Tatiana Ivanova were stripped of their results by the International Olympic Committee and received lifetime bans due to doping accusations.

Both Russians had their suspensions reversed and results reinstated by CAS on Thursday.

The IOC said it had taken note of the CAS decision “with satisfaction on the one hand and disappointment on the other” because of the impact it could have on the future fight against doping in sport.

“Afraid it may be the beginning of the end for Olympics … if the IOC rolls over on this one,” Edney tweeted.

Pyeongchang will likely be Edney’s final Olympic appearance. He capped his World Cup career over the weekend with a sixth-place finish in the team race and a disappointing 31st in the men’s singles event in Latvia.

“It’s not the end to my World Cup career that I was looking for,” Edney said on Saturday.

In the wake of Thursday’s decision the Canadian Olympic Committee issued a strong statement in support of the IOC and anti-doping initiatives.

“Doping is an enemy of Olympic sport. It must stop. The Canadian Olympic Committee supports the IOC in taking all the necessary next steps to stop the scourge of doping.

“The COC will continue to work in rigorous partnership with all who will fight against doping in sport. Now more than ever, there must be consistent and clear individual and collective sanctions written into the rules of all International Federations and sport bodies to ensure credibility of the sport system, and fairness for athletes where ever they live.”

Nobody from the Canadian team or Luge Canada was available for comment Thursday.

Olympic gold medallist Beckie Scott, who serves as the chair of the World Anti-Doping Agency’s athlete committee, said Edney has “every right” to be frustrated and called the CAS ruling a “massive setback” in the general fight against doping.

As someone who had an Olympic medal upgraded — twice — the Canadian cross-country skier can sympathize with Edney.

Scott had her bronze medal from the Salt Lake City Games in 2002 upgraded to silver when Russia’s Larisa Lazutina was stripped of second place for doping. That silver was then promoted to gold after it was revealed first-place finisher Olga Danilova of Russia had tested positive for doping during the Games.

“This is a huge failure of the entire system to protect clean athletes and to work on their behalf, and athletes like Sam Edney have every right to feel angry and frustrated and disappointed,” the three-time Olympian told The Canadian Press in a phone interview. “They have been let down by the system.”

Eleven more Russians were ruled Thursday to have been guilty of doping but had the lifetime bans imposed by an IOC disciplinary panel two months ago cut to a ban only from the Pyeongchang Games.

Scott said she was “very disillusioned and fully disheartened” by that decision, especially after the IOC last year banned 43 Russians for doping offences at the Sochi Olympics, ruling they had been part of a state-sponsored scheme to dope.

“We have proof of a state-sponsored system that allows athletes to cheat through the Olympic Games and there’s not going to be any consequences for this?” she said, adding that anyone involved in the promotion of clean sport ”should be raising their voice and asking what’s going on here.”

The Russian government vehemently denies ever supporting doping.

Christiane Ayotte, director of the Montreal dope testing lab, said she was disappointed but not surprised at the court’s ruling.

“Any athlete, including Russians, has the right after a positive test to appeal to the CAS,” she said. ”The decision was based on evidence provided by the IOC.

Ayotte said that the while initial investigation into Russian doping by Richard McLaren was looking for widespread cheating, “on an individual basis, the evidence (CAS) had may not be enough to find an athlete guilty.”

Edney, who remained hopeful that “clean sport will prevail,” also called for people to speak up.

“Clean athletes must be louder and demand a fair place to compete,” he tweeted.

Four-time Olympic gold medallist Hayley Wickenheiser called for “full transparency from CAS on this decision,” asking that evidence and transcripts from the ruling be presented to athletes.

“I feel for the Canadian luge team who have lost a medal because of this decision,” Wickenheiser said in a statement emailed to The Canadian Press. “I feel for all clean athletes of the world right now.”

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